L.A. Times Calls California Speed Trap Law “Absurd” and Urges Reform

California's "absurd" speed law means more deaths on L.A. roads.  Palisades Drive car crash photo by Peter Duke via Flickr Creative Commons
California's "absurd" speed law means more deaths on L.A. roads. Palisades Drive car crash photo by Peter Duke via Flickr Creative Commons

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This story sponsored by Los Angeles Metro to remind readers of traffic pattern changes resulting from Purple Line Construction. Unless noted in the story, Metro is not consulted for the content or editorial direction of the sponsored content.

This week the Los Angeles Times weighed in with a couple of strong articles on the deadly scofflaw speeding that plagues Southern California streets.

Longtime SBLA readers may already be aware of the California speed trap law that forces cities into a deadly vicious cycle of speeding leading to increased speed limits, as well as the pro-speeding interests (California Highway Patrol, Teamsters, Auto Club, and trucking industry) who undermine reform efforts, including the recent bill by Assemblymember Laura Friedman.

Earlier this week Laura Nelson wrote an excellent piece that both outlines the technical and legal issues and humanizes L.A.’s speeding problem. Nelson tells the story of Northridge’s Zelzah Avenue, where the city of L.A. has increased the speed limit from 35 mph to 45 mph in recent years, despite neighbor’s concerns over multiple traffic deaths and the “frequent sounds of screeching tires as drivers narrowly avoided collisions.”

From Nelson’s article:

Zelzah’s growing speed limits epitomize the catch-22 that Los Angeles officials have faced for decades on dozens of miles of major city streets: Raise the speed limit, or lose the ability to write most speeding tickets.

The dilemma stems from a decades-old California law designed to protect drivers from speed traps, which requires cities to post speed limits that reflect the natural speed of traffic. If the limit is too low, or if it is years out of date, the police can’t use radar guns or other electronic devices to write speeding tickets there.

Drivers had grown accustomed to speeding with no citations, police said. Higher average speeds forced the city to raise the speed limit to resume ticketing.

Today, the L.A. Times editorial board called for changing the outdated state law that forces cities to raise speed limits. The editorial calls current state law “absurd” and opines firmly on the side of safety and needed reform:

…a decades-old state law essentially requires cities to set speed limits based on how fast people are already driving, regardless of whether that speed is safe. The law was passed to prevent cities from setting speed traps, or arbitrarily low speed limits aimed at sticking drivers with pricey tickets.

This is an absurd way to govern a public space. It lets faster-than-average drivers dictate the law, rather than basing the law on what is best for all street users. It doesn’t take into account the community’s broader needs for the street, including making the speed of travel safer …

The next logical step would be to change the state law that bars cities from setting speed limits for safe travel, rather than just fast travel.

[…]

Certainly, lower speed limits alone won’t make the streets safer. There needs to be public education about the risks of speed, as well as traffic enforcement in speed-prone corridors. Streets also need to be engineered for safety, and that often means redesigning roadways and intersection to make drivers slow down.

Granted, that’s not always popular with drivers who are used to ruling the road. But the streets don’t belong just to drivers. They belong to everyone.

To their credit, the city of Los Angeles Transportation Department (LADOT) and Police Department (LAPD) are doing a lot to dig themselves out of a serious backlog that has hampered ticketing speeder scofflaws. LADOT spokesperson Oliver Hou confirms that, despite recent speed limit changes approved, there are about 200 miles still needing current speed surveys. Hou stated that another batch of speed limit updates is expected this year.

As the Times stresses, safe streets for everyone will need enforcement and education and engineering.

Kudos to the Times for getting this important message out.

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